Schatz Has Lots Of Knoxville Knowledge

Donny Schatz wheels his No. 15 sprinter through a turn at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway. (Paul Arch Photo)

Editor’s Note: This is the 25th installment in National Speed Sport News’ 30 Days of Knoxville countdown to the 52nd annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals. During the coming days we will revisit past races, drivers and statistics, while previewing this year’s event.

Five-time Knoxville Nationals champion Donny Schatz explained how to win the Nationals in a column he wrote for the August issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine. Here is an excerpt from that column.

The big races are the ones that you want to be best prepared for. We try to learn as much as we can early in the season, but by early May you have to have a game plan in terms of what you are going to try and win the Nationals with.

We almost always race the Nationals with a new car and fresh engine. It’s worked out for us. I know some people think you have to at least shake things down first. Some people do that. We usually don’t. You trust the people that build your stuff. You expect to get the best piece you can from them and you go out and race it.

That leads me to the biggest thing about Knoxville — anxiety.

You can worry about every little detail. I can tell you that I have at one time or another, but the experience of being there year after year helps you through that. You can worry about your qualifying night and who is and who isn’t racing. But in the big picture, if you are going to win the Nationals, you have to beat everyone at some point anyway.

I’ve experienced the Nationals in numerous scenarios. We’ve come in Monday and raced in the Front Row Challenge at Oskaloosa. We’ve had special paint scheme unveilings. We’ve had years where I would just fly in Tuesday afternoon and be there until Wednesday night, race and then fly home.

It’s never the same. You have to pace yourself, not worry about the things you can’t control and be the best you can every time you hit the track.

As far as the racing goes, it’s pretty simple. You have to put yourself in a position to succeed. If you get an early qualifying number, take advantage of it. If you have a late qualifying number, watch the track closely. Maybe you can find the right line and put a good lap on the board. Every position is important in the heat race. You have to be smart about when to make your move.

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FARGO, N.D.
When you live life in constant motion, finding any sort of routine to keep you heading it in the right direction is the key. Now that I’m into my 13th year of racing with the World of Outlaws, I’ve become accustomed to always being on the go. Some things change, but others are still quite a bit like when I first hit the road in 1997.

Every summer the Outlaws make a stop in my home state of North Dakota and this year that continued. For 28 or so years, the Outlaws raced in Fargo at Red River Valley Speedway, and in the 1990s, it became a three-night program. The people up here loved it.

Recently, we’ve seen more and more races up here with stops now in Minot, Grand Forks and Mandan. For North Dakota to have five nights of WoO racing is pretty cool, but there is a price for that. The annual three-day event in Fargo ended a few years ago and this year, we raced Friday night in Grand Forks, Saturday in Fargo and Sunday in Minot. Later in the summer we’ll return for another race at Grand Forks and one in Mandan.

Grand Forks and Minot are both smaller tracks where the action seems to be more regular while Fargo is a big, fast half-mile. Having all three on the same weekend meant the North Dakota fans had a choice. Some decided to attend one, others made two races and several made all three.

I was really happy this year’s race at Fargo was so good. Even though we were fighting for third instead of first, the fans got to see a great race. That’s got to continue there because I want that race to be on the schedule for the next 30 years. Our sport needs to keep places that have been yearly stops for the Outlaws on the schedule every year, no matter what.

Any time you do something and have success, everyone wants to talk about what your next challenge should be. I say “should” simply because everyone has an opinion and in most cases, they aren’t afraid to let you know what it is. With three championships and in my second year driving for Tony Stewart Racing, the natural question is what about NASCAR?

NASCAR is the pinnacle in racing right now. You have the F-1 guys coming over here and competing. We’ve seen champions from the IRL take their turns. I truly believe all racers want to be challenged and compete with the best. That’s why you see so many great drivers heading in that direction.

My focus is on continuing to race right where I am, but anything is possible. You never know what might happen if you’re in the right place at the right time. I’ve worked a long time to reach the level that I have in sprint-car racing and feel honored to be competing for my fourth WoO title.

This year has been quite a bit different than the past few. We started off really well in Florida and then kind of struggled through March and April. We did win at Knoxville and Eldora in May, so that gave us some confidence that we can return to that championship form through the summer.

I’d say we’ve had more finishes outside the top-10 this year than we did in all three of our championship years combined. All the contenders seem to be that way, so that’s why the championship chase is so exciting this year.

The thing that I’m really enjoying about this year is battling Steve Kinser. He is the icon for our sport and there is nothing more rewarding than racing with him night after night.

I know no one will ever put up the kind of numbers he has. They have done a great job of being fast all season. The past couple of years we’ve battled Joey (Saldana) and last year it was (Jason) Meyers that was right there.

This year it’s kind of like all four of us are regularly racing for wins and that’s keeping everything tight.
For the past 13 years I’ve learned that July is a great time to make a statement and August is when you put the exclamation point to it.

FARGO, N.D.
When you live life in constant motion, finding any sort of routine to keep you heading it in the right direction is the key. Now that I’m into my 13th year of racing with the World of Outlaws, I’ve become accustomed to always being on the go. Some things change, but others are still quite a bit like when I first hit the road in 1997.

Every summer the Outlaws make a stop in my home state of North Dakota and this year that continued. For 28 or so years, the Outlaws raced in Fargo at Red River Valley Speedway, and in the 1990s, it became a three-night program. The people up here loved it.

Recently, we’ve seen more and more races up here with stops now in Minot, Grand Forks and Mandan. For North Dakota to have five nights of WoO racing is pretty cool, but there is a price for that. The annual three-day event in Fargo ended a few years ago and this year, we raced Friday night in Grand Forks, Saturday in Fargo and Sunday in Minot. Later in the summer we’ll return for another race at Grand Forks and one in Mandan.

Grand Forks and Minot are both smaller tracks where the action seems to be more regular while Fargo is a big, fast half-mile. Having all three on the same weekend meant the North Dakota fans had a choice. Some decided to attend one, others made two races and several made all three.

I was really happy this year’s race at Fargo was so good. Even though we were fighting for third instead of first, the fans got to see a great race. That’s got to continue there because I want that race to be on the schedule for the next 30 years. Our sport needs to keep places that have been yearly stops for the Outlaws on the schedule every year, no matter what.

Any time you do something and have success, everyone wants to talk about what your next challenge should be. I say “should” simply because everyone has an opinion and in most cases, they aren’t afraid to let you know what it is. With three championships and in my second year driving for Tony Stewart Racing, the natural question is what about NASCAR?

NASCAR is the pinnacle in racing right now. You have the F-1 guys coming over here and competing. We’ve seen champions from the IRL take their turns. I truly believe all racers want to be challenged and compete with the best. That’s why you see so many great drivers heading in that direction.

My focus is on continuing to race right where I am, but anything is possible. You never know what might happen if you’re in the right place at the right time. I’ve worked a long time to reach the level that I have in sprint-car racing and feel honored to be competing for my fourth WoO title.

This year has been quite a bit different than the past few. We started off really well in Florida and then kind of struggled through March and April. We did win at Knoxville and Eldora in May, so that gave us some confidence that we can return to that championship form through the summer.

I’d say we’ve had more finishes outside the top-10 this year than we did in all three of our championship years combined. All the contenders seem to be that way, so that’s why the championship chase is so exciting this year.

The thing that I’m really enjoying about this year is battling Steve Kinser. He is the icon for our sport and there is nothing more rewarding than racing with him night after night.

I know no one will ever put up the kind of numbers he has. They have done a great job of being fast all season. The past couple of years we’ve battled Joey (Saldana) and last year it was (Jason) Meyers that was right there.

This year it’s kind of like all four of us are regularly racing for wins and that’s keeping everything tight.
For the past 13 years I’ve learned that July is a great time to make a statement and August is when you put the exclamation point to it.